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Literacy in the Deaf Community: How Language Services Can Help

Deaf little girl smiling and signing with an older adult.

In a world that relies on written and spoken words to communicate, being Deaf or hard of hearing (HoH) can pose significant disadvantages for many individuals.

Low literacy among Deaf and HoH communities is a prevalent issue. And even though most individuals in these communities know American Sign Language (ASL) to allow them to communicate with their hands when they can't read or write, many people do not speak their language. 

A lot of businesses and public services do not offer ASL language support. This means those who are Deaf have no way to communicate effectively with the world around them, which can lead to detrimental consequences in many scenarios. Below is a closer look at literacy in Deaf and HoH communities and how language support services can help. 

A Look at Literacy in the Deaf and HoH Community 

According to research, around a third of Deaf and severely hard of hearing children have low literacy when they leave school. Reading is a learned skill that is based on spoken language, which is not something most Deaf children can do. Additionally, when a child is learning to read, they must rely on the phonetic letter and word sounds, but if a child can't hear the sounds being made, this makes learning to read difficult. 

Deaf individuals must process language through what they see instead of what they hear. Therefore, even though children who cannot hear well often struggle to learn to read, they can be highly proficient with ASL from an early age. Deaf and HoH individuals who are written-language literate and fluent in ASL are considered bilingual. 

The Dangers of Low Literacy in the Deaf Community 

Whether in healthcare or other public service industries, knowing the client you are working with comprehends the information given is paramount. Deaf and HoH communities face challenges because many people they encounter in the everyday world do not speak their language at all. If an individual has low literacy, they not only struggle because they can't use ASL to communicate, but they also struggle because they cannot read if the information is presented in written form. 

Language barriers due to lacking ASL language support combined with low literacy put Deaf people at risk in a number of situations. However, these risks are easiest to see in healthcare scenarios. Research indicates that in healthcare, Deaf people face a heightened risk of: 

Studies have concluded that Deaf people may even be seven times as likely to experience certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease. 

How Language Services Can Help With Low Literacy in the Deaf Community 

Language support is often considered for supporting individuals who audibly speak a language other than English, such as Spanish, Cantonese, or French. However, the limited-English proficiency (LEP) designation also applies to Deaf and HoH communities or those that speak only ASL. 

Language support services with ASL can be exceptionally important for someone who has low literacy in the Deaf community. Hundreds of studies have examined how language support intervention for Deaf individuals improves the quality of their care and health outcomes. One comprehensive review of these studies found that ASL language support in the form of ASL interpreters and remote interpreting services enhanced things like: 

  • The likelihood that a Deaf patient would seek care or preventive care 
  • The provider's ability to effectively explain a medical diagnosis or treatment plan 
  • The Deaf patient's ability to explain their symptoms and ask questions 
  • A Deaf parent's ability to communicate concerns about their child's health 

Language support for the Deaf community may look different for communities that speak a different language because visuals are more important for effective communication than audible voice. Therefore, language support services must be in-person or video-remote interpreting (VRI), as telephone interpreting would not offer the necessary ability to use visuals. 

Build Better Connections With GLOBO Language Support 

At GLOBO, we strive to help the world communicate better across all languages, including ASL. While low literacy among LEP individuals can be a challenge, we're here to bridge the communication gap with a full collection of language support services. Reach out to schedule a demo.

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